How to Build a Custom Airtable CRM (Step by Step Guide)

August 8, 2022
•
8
min read
By:
Lizzie Davis, Growth Marketer, Stacker

You can build a custom Airtable CRM for your business by:

However, if you try to use Airtable as a CRM, you will come across a serious limitation — it’s not possible to limit which parts of the data your CRM collaborators can see. Everyone who has access to your Airtable base (i.e. your CRM data) can see all the tables, records, or fields within it. This is a big problem when you want some users to only access certain parts of your CRM.

To show you what we mean, we're going to walk you through the process of building and customizing a CRM using Airtable's template. Then, we'll show you how you can use Stacker (our no-code web app builder) to build a fully customizable CRM, powered by your Airtable data, with granular permissions at the table, record, and field levels and an easier-to-navigate layout.

Note: Sign up for Stacker’s free 30-day trial and follow along to build your CRM today.

How to Build and Customize Your Airtable CRM

When you start using Airtable for a new project, you get to choose between three options:

How to Build a Custom CRM in Airtable: Start from scratch, Quickly upload, or Start with templates.
  1. Start from scratch: Starting from scratch means you’ll have a blank base without any data in it. From here, you can create different tables for your CRM, change field types, add new records, and import data from other sources.
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  2. Quickly upload: The quick upload option is useful if you already have CRM data in other tools like Google Sheets, Excel, or Trello. It lets you migrate these projects to an Airtable base, which is often useful for startups and other small businesses that have their CRM data in spreadsheets.
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  3. Start with templates: You can select a CRM template and tailor it to your business needs by adding or deleting fields, linking records, creating new tables, and more. 

For the first part of this article, we’ll be using Airtable’s default sales CRM template. However, all the customizations we’ll show are available regardless of if you use a template or start from scratch.

After you select the template, you’ll need to add your CRM data and organize it in tables. For example, Airtable's CRM template comes with four tables: Opportunities, Interactions, Accounts, and Contacts — and you can add others, like Projects, Services, or anything else that’s relevant to your business. 

An Example of the Airtable CRM Template

The specific records and fields inside each table can also vary, but most CRMs include contact information (e.g., name, position, email), target accounts, status, last interaction, planned follow-ups, and owner.

Again, if you already have this data in another tool, you can import it into a table by clicking on the small “+” button.

How You Can Tailor and Customize the Airtable CRM’s Layout

Once all the relevant data is in your base, it’s time to tailor the CRM’s layout and functionality. There are various ways to do this, so we’ll focus on the main ones that most users need.

#1 Customize Field Types

Airtable lets you select between different field types, depending on the information in them. For example, the screenshot below shows an “Estimated value” field with “Currency” as the field type and “$” as the currency symbol.

How to Customize Fields in Your Airtable CRM

To change a field’s type, click on the small arrow next to its name. This will open up a new window where you can choose a field type (like single line text, phone number, email, checkbox, etc.) and add an optional description for each field.

How to Choose Field Type in Your Airtable CRM

For example, say enterprise clients are especially important to your business, so you want to easily track enterprise opportunities through the pipeline. In that case, you can create a new field called “Enterprise”, select “Checkbox” as the field type, and tick off all enterprise opportunities, as shown in the screenshot below.

An Example of Creating a New Field in Your Airtable CRM

As a result, you can easily group, filter, and track all enterprise opportunities. 

For an exhaustive list of all different field types, head on over to Airtable’s documentation.

#2 Use Linked Record Fields

Linked record fields allow you to represent the relationships between records in different tables. This is essential for CRMs, as the information in various tables is often connected. 

For example, in the screenshot below, we’ve opened the “Opportunities” table in our CRM. As you can see, the information in the “Account”, “Primary contact for”, and “Interaction” fields is highlighted in blue, showing that these are linked record fields.

How to Use Linked Fields in Your Airtable

In other words, they’re linked to the other tables in order to better represent the relationship between items in the CRM. 

Once a link is created, you can click on it to expand the record it links to, allowing you to easily see and edit important information from another table. For example, if you click on a specific account in the CRM, the record expands to show all the information about that account from other linked tables.

A Look at How Linked Fields Work in Airtable

This makes it much easier to update data in your CRM because you don’t have to jump between different tables. It also reduces the risk of making conflicting edits, since you can update the data from one place and the changes will take place in the corresponding tables.

Linked record fields are really versatile and the way they connect the data in your CRM depends entirely on your workflow. For more details and best practices, check out Airtable’s tutorials.

#3 Create Personalized Views

Views let you customize how the data in your CRM is presented. For example, the screenshot below shows a sales pipeline organized in a Kanban view, instead of the default table view. 

How to Create Personalized Views in Your Airtable CRM

This makes it easy to see where each customer is in the sales process, without getting distracted by irrelevant data.

To create a new view, click on one of the options in the bottom left (Grid, Form, Calendar, etc). From here, you can select whether the view should be collaborative, personal, or locked. Then, choose which records and fields should appear in this view and how they’re organized.

As you can see, Airtable can be used as a versatile CRM that serves all kinds of use cases. Additionally, Airtable’s integrations and API allow you to connect to third-party CRM software tools, send data between them and your Airtable CRM, set up automations, and trigger notifications in apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

However, the limited permission settings on Airtable pose a big problem when you don’t want to share all the data in your CRM with each collaborator. 

For instance, with this Airtable CRM setup, you have no way of sharing only certain tables or fields with someone, without giving them access to the entire CRM. And, further, using Airtable as a CRM isn’t the most user-friendly experience. The layout is limited to the column and rows look that can be seen as messy and cluttered.

In the next sections, we’ll show you how to overcome this issue, while still having a customizable CRM that’s powered by your Airtable data.

How to Use Stacker to Build a CRM with Granular Permissions and a Fully Customizable UI

Stacker is our tool that lets you create all sorts of useful apps (including CRMs), powered by your data — all without writing a single line of code. And unlike just using Airtable’s CRM interface, you have much more control over how your team (and external users) interact with your data.

When it comes to building a CRM with Stacker, the process starts off similarly to Airtable: You need to select where the data for your CRM will live. 

Using Stacker’s Data Sources to Build a Custom Airtable CRM

You can choose between three options:

  1. Sync Stacker to your Airtable base(s) and Google Sheets data. When you sync these data sources, Stacker immediately builds a workable app with your data. Plus, any changes you make on the front end are automatically reflected on the back end, so you only need to update one tool. 

    For example, say you use Stacker to build a CRM on top of your Airtable base. When someone moves an opportunity from “Negotiation” to “Closed-won” via the CRM’s front end, that change will automatically be reflected in your Airtable base.
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  2. Use Stacker as a database with Stacker Tables. You can house all of your CRM data directly in Stacker (without using Airtable anymore). With this option, you won’t need different tools for your CRM’s back end and front end. Instead, you use Stacker for both, which helps simplify your workflow and reduces the number of tools you’re using.
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  3. Bring in data from 60+ different sources. Lastly, you can choose from different types of data sources, including CRMs (e.g. HubSpot, Salesforce, Pipedrive), project management tools (e.g., Asana, Jira, Mavenlink), databases (e.g. MySQL, MongoDB, MariaDB), and much more. You can also import data from an Excel spreadsheet by uploading a CSV file to Stacker.

    Note: These sources are read-only. Any changes made on the app front end won’t be automatically reflected on the back end, i.e. on the original data source.
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Set Granular Permissions for Who Can See and Edit CRM Data

The inability to set granular permissions is one of Airtable’s biggest limitations.

Say you want each rep on the sales team to only see and edit the information about their opportunities. However, you also want sales managers to see everyone’s opportunities, so they can monitor the entire pipeline. This isn't possible with an Airtable CRM, since you can’t set permissions at the table, record, and field levels. Anyone who has access to your Airtable base can see all the information within it.

In contrast, Stacker provides complete control over what each user can see and edit in your CRM. 

Going back to our example, you can set custom permission rules, so that each sales rep, sales manager, or any other user sees only what you want them to see.

To create a new permission rule, go to App Settings → Permissions. From there, you’ll see a list of all the tables within your Airtable base (or in a different data source you’re connected to), with an “Add permissions” button under each table name.

How to Easily Set Permissions in Stacker for Your CRM

Clicking that button lets you create a new permission rule that applies to just that table. 

With Stacker, You Can Set More Granular Permissions for Your Airtable

You can also create User Roles, and set permissions for them. 

Going back to our example, you can create one role for sales reps that lets them only see and edit data about their opportunities and have another role for their managers, so they can see all opportunities in the pipeline.

How to Add Users and Guests to Your CRM with Stacker

Lastly, Stacker lets you add guests (in this case, reps and their managers) to your CRM directly — by entering their email address or by connecting a user table from your data source. 

Adding and Managing Users with Stacker

For more details and best practices on setting up permission rules with Stacker, refer to our article on How to Configure a Permission Rule.

Customize Your CRM’s Layout

Besides setting custom permissions, Stacker lets you customize your CRM’s front end without coding or worrying about pixels, aspect ratios, and any other design issues. 

As we said, if you’re syncing Stacker to Airtable or Google Sheets, our tool will automatically build a working app, based on the structure of your base(s). This means it automatically brings in pre-built formulas and linked records.

With this ability, you can take an Airtable CRM that looks like this:

An Example of the Airtable CRM Template

And quickly turn it into this:

Your Airtable CRM Improved with Stacker

This is a Stacker CRM with a Kanban Board view, which lets sales reps easily find accounts and filter them by industry. After clicking on a specific account, it expands to display all the other details on a clean interface. 

And while Stacker will automatically build your CRM’s layout, based on the structure of your base, you can tailor it to your needs by:

  • Adding buttons for important functions like delete, edit, save, etc. 
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  • Changing your CRM’s color and adding your or your clients’ logos.
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  • Customizing how the data is presented to users by choosing which fields are displayed, using filters, and sorting records by a specific order.
How to Edit Your CRM Layout with Stacker

Choosing whether your lists (i.e., tables) appear as cards, rows, boards, tables, inbox, one record only, or in a calendar view. For example, viewing lists as boards allows users to see records organized by a category, like we showed with the Kanban board view. For a CRM, these could be statuses in the sales pipeline like “Proposal”, “Negotiation”, “Offer Accepted”, etc. 

An Example of a CRM Built with Stacker

Again, none of this requires any design or coding skills.

If you’re connecting to another data source (besides Airtable and Google Sheets), you can choose between different templates for your front end, including a CRM template.

Choosing the Internal Tool Custom CRM Template for Easy Building

However, you can also click on “Other” if you want to start from scratch. 

Regardless of whether you use a template or start from scratch, all of the customization options we showed above are at your disposal.

Get Stacker and Build a Fully Customizable CRM Without Coding Today

You can use Stacker to build a fully customizable CRM with granular permissions by:

  • Keeping all your CRM data in Airtable — or another one of our 60+ supported data sources — and syncing it to Stacker.
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  • Using Stacker Tables to house all of your data in our tool, where you can manage both your CRM’s front end and back end with Stacker.

Companies like Zapier, Segment, Spedal, and many others use Stacker to build all sorts of useful no-code apps, including CRMs, project management tools, budget trackers, client portals, and much more.

Try out Stacker today by signing up for a free 30-day trial (no credit card required).

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